This paper presents a human resource information systems (HRIS)
model with a primary objective: To provide a comprehensive framework
that advances HRIS research (Kuhn, 1996). This model is based on general
systems theory, relevant academic research, and practitioner
observations. Our prototype is a necessary and vital step in developing
a thorough and systematic strategy for analyzing one of the most dynamic
and potentially useful areas in business today. More specifically, our
model addresses all major HRIS components and offers information on how
these facets interact to support each other and larger organizational
outcomes. These model units consist of organizational vision, strategic
integration, personnel development, communication and integration,
records and compliance, knowledge management, HR analysis, and
forecasting and planning.
This paper presents a comprehensive model of human resource
information systems (HRIS) functions. Management scholars contend that
enhanced theoretical rigor is necessary to bridge the gap between
research and practice (Becker, & Gerhart, 1996; Kuhn, 1996; Ulrich,
1997). In response, our model is drawn from over a decade of HRIS
studies, organizational learning and general systems theory, human
resources development research, and other relevant work in
organizational behavior and information systems literature. The model
underscores the role of HRIS as the operational link between strategic
organizational vision and human resources implementations. Management
scholars have long called for stronger and more explicit paths between
strategic planning and applications in human resources. Yet
implementation guidance for this vital connection has proved elusive
(Cascio, 1998; Haines, & Petit, 1997). We contend that HRIS is a
powerful tool in forging this link, and increased understanding must be
gained to develop its maximum potential.
Unfortunately, relatively few studies have focused specifically on
HRIS, and many of these studies have been descriptive, narrowly focused,
or anecdotal (Haines, & Petit, 1997; Kovach, & Cathcart, 1999;
Richards-Carpenter, 1997; Richards-Carpenter, 1996). To help fill this
gap, we have developed a model to serve as an initial step in building
the necessary foundation for a more systematic analysis. Our model is
based on a review of selected, pertinent research, and a discussion of
the major HRIS functions embodied in its design. Finally, we will
present the implications of our model for future research and practice.
Human resources operations challenge organizations with a dualistic
yet interdependent set of outcomes. One summons organizational change
that may be perceived as a threat to the status quo, while the other set
of outcomes gives highly valuable potential benefits for organizational
performance. This paradox stems from the requirement for U.S. businesses
to improve productivity from their skilled workers in order to satisfy
the demand shift from manufacturing to technological and intellectual
innovations (Cascio, 1998; Robbins, 1998). This transformation means
that both organizational productivity gains and competitive advantage
depend on high quality worker competence. In other words, increasing
productivity through people is now paramount. Consequently, essential
human resource functions have recently become even more critical to
general organizational well-being.
To achieve these complex objectives, many organizations have turned
to information systems technology (Haines, & Petit, 1997;
Richards-Carpenter, 1997; Simon, & Werner, 1996). The reliance on
technology has deceptively been prompting the false assumption that HRIS
is synonymous with computerized human resource information systems. In
reality, computer technology is not required for a successful HRIS
function, and many HRIS activities still defy computer automation
(Grossman, & Magnus, 1988; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Simon, &
Werner, 1996). Nevertheless, computer based information technology
serves as a tremendous tool for operationalizing HRIS applications. Many
related tasks such as rapid information dissemination and feedback would
be impractical or impossible without computerized support (Benjamin,
& Benson, 1986; DeSanctis, 1986; Haines, & Petit, 1997).
With this major charge, information systems technology has
introduced wide spread implementation of human resource information
systems that more fully allow organizational members to participate in
information sharing and decision-making. Indeed, past studies have shown
that over 90 percent of organizations have a formalized and separate
HRIS department or an equivalent function (Cholak, & Simon, 1991;
Richards-Carpenter, 1997). Nearly all organizations have actually
implemented some form of HRIS Anonymous, 1996; Richards-Carpenter,
1997). However, these applications vary widely from organization to
organization, and there is equal diversity in the resultant benefits
(Cholak, & Simon, 1991; Haines, & Petit, 1997;
Preliminary research shows that successful HRIS operations are
identified by such outcomes as organizational competence; i.e, meeting
strategic goals (Thomas, 2001; Pierce, & Newstrom, 2002).
Furthermore, successful HRIS functions support such key processes as
executive decision-making, employee training, technology selection,
interdepartmental integration, and organizational reporting structures
(DeSanctis, 1986; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Richards-Carpenter, 1996).
While such studies provide valuable insights into HRIS implementation,
their generalizability is limited due to the absence of a comprehensive
foundation in which to contextually base these findings (Kovach, &
Kathcart, 1999; Kuhn, 1996; Weick, 1979).
Equally important, the development of any such framework should
also be practical, applicable t current organizational issues, and
flexible enough to address emergent trends. Foremost, and a key
pacesetter among these trends, is knowledge management, or the belief
that Intellectual capital is the core competitive asset in contemporary
Knowledge management assumes that knowledge and its complement,
learning, are the forces that optimize organizational performance
(Davenport & Prusak, 1998). Furthermore, organizational knowledge
can be more closely observed in its currency, intellectual capital,
which has been defined as both "hard" and "soft"
assets. Both of these categories are distinct, yet clearly
interdependent. "Hard" intellectual capital assets refer to
legal documents, software, and databases; while their "soft"
counterparts are people-centered organizational strengths including
skills, expertise, culture, and commitment (Stewart, 2001).
These two categories can be effectively integrated with human
resource information systems that are well designed. In brief, HRIS make
vital contributions to knowledge management by advancing organizational
learning. For example, HRIS facilitates double loop learning feedback
that enables organizational change and discussion, intra organizational
communication and decision-making, and shared visions (Argryis, &
Schon, 1996). Strategic initiatives and related modifications can also
benefit from HRIS pathways. In addition, knowledge management involves
relevant training, which can often be delivered in both cost- and
time-effective ways with an HRIS. Even total quality management of
highly skilled professionals such as physicians can be enriched with a
carefully planned HRIS (Davenport, & Glaser, 2002).
Finally, HRIS gives the support to introduce and foster
"systems thinking" in an organization, especially when the
organization is driven by strategic vision, a mission based road map for
future organizational goals. Practices such as holistic problem solving,
continuous improvement, and team learning are examples of the processes
that accompany these HRIS structures (Senge, 1990).
Systems theory (Weick, 1979; Wilkerson, & Paul, 1985) is a
necessary framework for model development because it gives strategic
analytical criteria for such dynamic phenomena as HRIS (Cascio, 1998).
Systems theory also draws the boundaries for any given system along with
definitional criteria that are especially important for preliminary
research (Wilkerson, & Paul, 1985). In addition, researchers rely on
systems theory to develop hypotheses about which units are required for
a properly functioning system, how those units should interact, their
strength of influence on overall system effectiveness, and how to
optimize unit interactions towards realization of strategic objectives
(Weick, 1979; Wilkerson, & Paul, 1985).
AN HRIS MODEL
This section develops our HRIS model. While previous research has
identified HRIS features, these studies have not yet created a
comprehensive systems framework that is guided by strategic vision
(DeSanctis, 1986; Haines, & Petit, 1997; Simon, & Werner, 1995).
According to our earlier working definition of competent, successful
goal attainment (Thomas, 2000; Pierce, & Newstrom, 2002), this HRIS
model is a meaningful contribution to the development of a generalizable
and strategic HRIS design. However, this contribution loses value unless
it can be explained with careful identification of major HRIS attributes
and their interdependencies. These relationships must also be well
grounded in the research literature of all germane disciplines,
including human resources, information systems, and organizational
Based on our literature review of over five-hundred relevant
articles, we have identified seven primary components of the HRIS model.
These components are strategic integration, personnel development,
communication and integration, records and compliance, HR analysis,
knowledge management, and forecasting and planning. Furthermore, these
seven factors are integrated and linked to organizational outcomes
through the influence of strategic organizational vision. Previous
robust theoretical and practical research also supports selection of
these attributes (Cascio, 1998; Robbins, 1998).
Each of these components serve a pivotal role in a fully
functioning HRIS. Strategic integration gives high level decision makers
the information that is necessary to make long range plans about
organizational operations, as well as providing a feedback loop to
integrate HR planning with strategic development. Without these
information exchanges, managers would not be able to include expected
personnel factors in their decision making processes.
Many of these decision-making activities are based on HR analysis,
which is used to determine if current human resource capabilities are
congruent with the desired organizational vision. This analysis should
include routine HR processes, current personnel data, and a talent
inventory of available worker skills. Thus, effective HR analysis
measures and sends feedback about how well the organization's
current HR practices are meeting organizational goals.
Similarly, the forecasting and planning function transforms input
from HRIS analysis and other sources into its predictive feedback
estimates about future organizational personnel and skill requirements.
This factor is also very closely linked to the personnel development
unit of an HRIS. In response to HR forecast communications, personnel
development can address any organizational talent deficiencies with such
methods as employee training or through recruitment.
In comparison, the records and compliance area is necessary to meet
both numerous legal requirements that mandate specific information
retention, and to provide a data base that contributes to the proper
functioning of the other HRIS areas. This unit is also teamed with the
knowledge management function of HRIS. Cooperation is important since
the records and compliance area provides vital data for knowledge
management. And the knowledge management function is critical to fully
utilize the information contained in the records. Also, an effective
knowledge management function should capture previously tacit and other
undocumented forms of significant organizational knowledge. With these
capabilities, the knowledge management unit can preserve the
organizational memory that is necessary for high levels of
organizational performance, and ensure that appropriate transmission of
such knowledge occurs throughout the workforce.
Knowledge transfer is also a key role that the communication and
integration function fulfils. A properly operating HRIS will include
mechanisms, such as an intranet, for communicating necessary information
and integrating such communications in a suitable fashion. Overall, this
function supports complimentary interdependence with the goal of
synergy. A graphical representation of our model is presented in figure
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
This model suggests three propositions. The first proposition is
that each of these components behaves synergistically with all other
components. Thus, an absent or ineffective factor negatively impacts all
organizational outcomes, not just those outcomes that are directly
related. The second proposition assumes that the model is comprehensive,
and that all major HRIS functions are incorporated. The third
proposition states that factors are moderated by organizational culture,
industry, and strategy. As influential moderators, these variables will
appreciably strengthen or weaken the impact of HRIS units. Table 1
provides details for each specific component in the model.
Our model illustrates that human resource information systems are
an essential factor in a competent, learning organization. However,
human resource information systems are often misunderstood and
misapplied because of incomplete conceptualizations that do not focus on
strategic vision as the central force. There are numerous cases of
technological human resource information systems that fail to achieve
organizational goals because necessary elements have been overlooked or
misused, as demonstrated by unsuccessful team building and training
programs. In reality, an HRIS that is driven by strategic vision is an
open system, where information technology facilitates communication
freely between integrated features. Such information sharing is crucial
to learning organizations that view employees as their main competitive
Hopefully, this model reflects these attributes and helps to
clarify the design of human resource information systems that nurture
organizational competence. At the same time, this prototype can initiate
more steps to promote progress in both HRIS research and practice.
First, the model needs to be refined and tested. Surveys and simulations
could be applied to a longitudinal research design that assesses the
impact of HRIS on key organizational outcomes such as performance,
turnover, and absenteeism.
After completion of the first step, results can be translated into
benchmarks for HRIS. Concurrently, these insights can be configured to
develop improved HRIS evaluation tools. Ideally, these assessment
techniques will identify potential HRIS opportunities and problems with
early warning messages that maximize financial and performance outcomes.
In conclusion, a comprehensive human resource information system
that is driven by organizational vision is synergistic. These
technological partnerships enable organizations to realize visions
through their most important assets, the people who are their employees.
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Dr. Milton Mayfield is an Associate Professor of Management, and
Director of the Center for Business Research, College of Business, at
Texas A&M International University. He formerly served as the
Co-Chair of the Dept. of Management and Marketing. He has numerous
journal publications and has also done national and international
consulting work in the areas of leader training, human resources,
business communication, strategic decision making, and organizational
development. In addition, he is a specialist in research methodology and
design, and has authored several behavioral surveys including web based
Dr. Jacqueline Mayfield is an Associate Professor of Management,
and Director of Professional Development at Texas A&M International
University. She formerly served as the Co-Chair of the Dept. of
Management and Marketing. She specializes in the areas of leadership,
business communication, workforce planning, and worker development. She
has numerous journal publications and has done national and
international consulting work in the areas of leader training, business
communication, and organizational development. Prior to her academic
career, Dr. Mayfield earned an MBA from George Washington University and
worked in the health care industry for about 9 years.
Dr. Stephen E. Lunce is a Professor of Information Systems in the
Department of MIS and Decision Sciences at Texas A&M International
University. He is the Director of Graduate Programs in the College of
Business Administration. He is the author of over 60 referred research
articles, book chapters and monographs. Dr. Lunce is the Vice President
of The Decision Sciences Institute and serves on the Board of Directors
of the Institute representing the Southwest United States. He is a
Certified Computing Professional and a Certified Disaster Recovery
Planner. He was named Texas A&M International University's
College of Business Scholar of the Year for 2000. He was UTA's
College of Business initial Lawrence Schkade Research Fellow, and his
work with colleagues at UTA has been recognized with a Distinguished
Professional Publication Award. Dr. Lunce earned a BA from the
University of Dallas in History in 1977, an MBA from the University of
Dallas in Management Information Systems in 1988, and a Ph.D. from the
University of Texas at Arlington in Information Systems, 1994
The authors wish to thank an anonymous reviewer for Advances in
Competitiveness Research for the suggestions regarding knowledge
HRIS FUNCTIONS AND MAJOR ACTIVITIES
Functions Major Activities
Strategic Used to aid top management in making long
Integration term HR planning
Personnel Used to enhance worker's skills and abilities.
Development Also includes quality of work life
Communication and Inter-organizational communication support
Integration and coordination of disparate organizational
activities including change.
Records and Used to manage organizational information and
Compliance ensure governmental compliance.
Human Resources An ongoing means of gathering and diagnosing
Analysis human resource needs.
Knowledge Facilitates development and information
Management retention of beneficial human resource
Forecasting and Used in long range planning to assess future
Planning organizational HR needs.
Organizational Drives and integrates the HRIS factors to
Vision positive organizational outcomes